Dept thought needed before cutting budget
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is facing into a busy few weeks, given that the spending plans for each department have to be presented to the Department of Finance shortly.
Serious cutbacks in the overall spend by the Department of Agriculture have been flagged, not only by Mr Coveney but also in the deal agreed with the EU/IMF.
This agreement states that the current spend on agriculture has to fall from €1.379bn to €1.136bn for next year, while the capital budget will be cut by €120m. The total drop is around €360m.
In quoting the Troika line, Mr Coveney has been accused in some quarters of simply accepting the inevitability of cuts rather than fighting his corner more vigorously.
Holders of this view argue that these Budget negotiations will represent the first real test for the minister and that he must deliver for farmers.
The ball is bouncing well for the minister in that several schemes are coming to a natural end this year, thereby providing savings of €160m.
Among these are REPS 3, the Farm Waste Management Scheme, the Early Retirement Scheme and spending associated with the pork dioxin compensation package. In addition, the total wage bill of the Department continues to fall, giving additional savings.
However, further cutbacks of €200m have to be found. The question is where is the axe going to fall to deliver these savings, or should Mr Coveney be arguing that the €160m, which will come automatically this year, is sufficient?